When I was in middle school, we got an assignment in English class: Create a story and draw a comic about an issue you find interesting. Due to my lack of artistic ability, I wanted to make my story about something that was easier to draw than humans. I settled on food, or more specifically, imperfect produce. Coming from a family that has always had a garden in our backyard, I realized pretty quickly that our carrots and tomatoes did not look like the ones I saw in grocery stores. Over time, I found out that there was a word for these vegetables, ugly produce. I found out that grocery stores refused to sell these greens because they weren’t the right size or didn’t have the right shape. Stores were worried customers wouldn’t buy produce that didn’t look appealing. Appalled by this, I wrote my story about a group of imperfect carrots that were rejected by humans, tossed into a crate where they awaited being thrown out. Eventually, they came together, escaped and found their way back to their carrot families where they were accepted. I titled it “Perfect Imperfections.” But unlike the happy ending in my story, imperfect foods in the real world have yet to find such acceptance. 

Inclusivity is a practice the modern world is working hard to achieve. Take the modeling agency for example, in the past couple of years we’ve seen a rise in diversity in both race and physique. People of all different races and cultures are appearing on runways, magazines are featuring women of all sizes and minority groups are finally getting representation in the industry. Thanks to this new diversity, children will picture people from all backgrounds when they think of the word “beauty.” And while the fashion industry may have a long way to go, improvement is clear. But there’s another industry, displaying the same type of exclusion that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. The food industry has long been stopping produce that doesn’t look appealing from reaching consumers. 

Think back to your last trip to the grocery store. Remember the bright orange carrots? The juicy red tomatoes that looked so perfect? Maybe a little too perfect. If you’ve cultivated your own garden, you know that some of your produce does not look like what you see in grocery stores. There may be carrots that have extra parts sticking out from their sides, or tomatoes that form lumpy shapes like two soap bubbles stacked on top of each other. These imperfect vegetables are much more common than you would think, but we rarely see them in grocery stores – they’ve been purposely excluded. And while it may seem drastic to compare vegetables to models, the basic concept of their exclusion is similar. As New York Times author Jennifer Medina said, “the notion that real food has curves may be as catchy as the subversive advertising campaign on women’s beauty.” 

For the longest time, models were chosen if they had a particular body shape or skin tone that aligned with society’s beauty standards. Those who did not have the “right” features were rejected, because agencies didn’t think they looked appealing enough to advertise the clothing. Similarly, grocery stores don’t buy imperfect produce because they’re afraid customers won’t purchase odd-looking greens. Both groups are excluded because other people think they won’t be received well by the general public. Apart from their appearances, imperfect produce is the same as “normal” greens in both taste and quality. But because of the unwillingness to market them, imperfect produce makes up around 40% of the food waste in the U.S

But a market for these foods does exist, with new companies such as Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market delivering low-priced imperfect produce straight to their customers’ doors. While these companies are helping to promote “ugly” foods, the real change should happen in larger grocery store chains.  The main issue with excluding imperfect foods is that it continues to promote the close-minded idea that things need to look a certain way in order to be accepted. More attention must be focused on including ugly produce in grocery stores. How can we become a more inclusive society, if something as basic as food must look a specific way to be accepted?